National Seminar on Regional Parties

The Department of political science of Bhagini Nivedita College, University of Delhi organised a National Seminar on Regional Parties in the changing environment of Indian politics on 18 - 19 March, 2013. It was held at Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi and was sponsored by the University Grants Commission.

The seminar commenced with Dr. Alokka Dutta, Seminar Coordinator introducing the theme in the context of the changing significance of regional parties in Indian Politics. The two day seminar had different sessions, which were chaired by renowned professors and eminent scholars from various universities and institutions. The two day seminar proved to be instrumental in creating a deeper understanding of the role of regional parties in the Indian politics today.

The inaugural session began with the welcome address by principal Dr. Purabi Saikia. Mr. Anjan Mukherjee, an eminent journalist, who was the chief guest drew attention to the role played by some regional parties during the independence struggle and how these parties had gone in to oblivion over time. Prof. Bidyut Chakravarty, former Head of Department, Political Science , University of Delhi, who delivered the keynote address was of the view that regional parties have become part of the strategy to enhance the bargaining power of parties in seat sharing arrangements, since no national party could now form governments on their own. In his remarks Dr. Jain, Principal of SRCC congratulated the college for organizing the seminar. Shri Arnold James, Chairman of the Governing Body of Bhagini Nevedita College who chaired the inaugural session highlighted the significance of the theme of the seminar in the present context

In the first session on regional parties and coalition politics, some of paper presenters were of the view that there were too many regional parties in the fray. To some nationalism represented unity, oneness and unselfish interests while regionalism stood for divisiveness, fragmentation and parochial interests. Reasons for the rise of regional parties and coalition politics were discussed against the backdrop of the inability of national parties to form governments on their own. The presenters also felt that the role of regional parties will be doubly reinforced in 2014 elections.

In the second session on impact of regionalism on Indian politics, the presenters discussed how regionalism had become an instrument for expedient political gains. Regional parties, despite their roots in regionalistic movements, are now integral part of national politics and have come to represent regional identities and aspirations. Examples of regional parties like DMK, AIADMK, AGP and Shiv Sena were discussed. They also pointed out their negative impacts in the form of vote bank politics, demand for local language based job reservations and rising levels of corruption

The third session focused on ethnicity, language and role of regional parties with special reference to the plural character of India’s North East, with diverse socio-cultural communities. Presenters felt that such diversities are often not taken into consideration and the region is treated as one homogenous administrative, political and geographical entity. In reality however, the differences in religion, language, political opinions and geographical features made each state unique. An interesting manifestation of ethnic politics in this region is in the division of the country into administrative units.

In the fourth session on regional parties and the issue of corruption, the presenters observed that political parties continued to give tickets to people who had corruption cases pending against them. As per available data, 15 candidates with corruption cases against them were given tickets during the last general elections by different political parties. A total of 80 candidates facing corruption charges have been given tickets in elections to state assemblies in the last five years. Twenty-nine of them have won the elections and are currently serving as law makers. The participants wondered whether India's political parties could ever be serious about fighting corruption when they condone it so openly. Some of the questions raised in this session were: When will the parties stop giving tickets to candidates facing criminal or corruption charges? Why corruption cases against MPs and legislators are not being tried in fast track mode? Why the political class is totally silent on these matters?

In the fifth session on regional parties and democracy, the panelists observed that India's success with democracy called for a revision of J S Mill's view which said that democracy is “next to impossible” in multi-ethnic societies and completely impossible in linguistically divided countries. One of the presenters pointed out that “democracy in developing countries tends to be as much a source of, as it is a solution to power conflicts”. Regional politics in India is rooted in an amalgamation of a complex set of factors that shed a light on such power conflicts. Presenters also noted with interest that the ideologies of regional parties have been constantly evolving with time. In this context, examples of the Samajwadi Party, Akali Dhal, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha were discussed. In the discussion it was concluded that in fact, the very triumph of democracy gave voice to a myriad concerns that saw the emergence of a whole new spectrum of political organisations and leaders. The post colonial leaders were no longer the old school nationalists that had put the country together in the first place. The deepening of democracy ensured that new leaders came to power representing a particular community, tribe, caste, religion and region.

In the sixth session on caste, class and regional parties the presenters pointed out that the irony of Indian politics is that its modern secular democracy has actually enhanced, in stead of reducing the political salience of traditional forms of social identity such as caste. India's political parties have found caste-based selection of candidates and appeals to the caste-based interests of the Indian electorate to be effective ways to win popular support. The economic development and social mobility of those groups, which are officially designated as Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes have also played a fundamental role. Accounting for 52 and 15 percent of the population, respectively, the Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes, or Dalits as they prefer to be called, constitute a diverse range of middle, lower, and other groups who have come to wield substantial power in most states. The presenters highlighted that indeed, one of the important aspects of modern Indian politics has been the jettisoning of their political subordination to upper castes the Backward Classes and Dalits and their assertion of their own interests.

The valedictory session was chaired by Dr. Suresh Kumar former head of the department of African Studies who said, ”Regional parties are now an indispensable part of Indian politics”. It was also addressed by prof. Subroto Mukherjee, former Head of the department, Political Science, University of Delhi who concluded that the strong image of regional parties is going to remain as a fundamental feature of Indian politics. Dr Purabi Saikia spoke about her vision of organizing a national level seminars by the college and how she inspired her team to implement this project. College Governing Body Chairman Mr. Arold James congratulated the organizing committee members of Bhagini Nivedita college for successfully organizing the two day seminar. The seminar coordinator, Dr. Alokka Dutta extended her vote of thanks to all and particularly panelists and chairpersons and to SRCC for their cooperation. She also specially thanked the University Grants Commission, New Delhi for its kind sponsorship and hoped that it would support similar events in future also.